In yet another bizarre and discouraging example of online vitriol spilling over into the (sort of) real world, the South by Southwest Interactive festival has canceled two panel discussions about gaming and online harassment, due to “numerous threats of on-site violence.”
This is apparently the latest outburst from the inchoate movement of aggrieved gamers (many male, some misogynist) known as GamerGate.
The decision to cancel the panels, one called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” the other “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” drew an immediate rebuttal from online publisher BuzzFeed, which has regularly voiced support for feminist advocacy among other social causes.
BuzzFeed announced that it would withdraw from the festival unless the panels were reinstated.
In a letter to SXSW organizers, BuzzFeed’s top execs and editor-in-chief noted: “Digital harassment -- of activists of all political stripes, journalists, and women in those fields or participating in virtually any other form of digital speech -- has emerged as an urgent challenge for the tech companies for whom your conference is an important forum.
Those targets of harassment, who include our journalists, do important work in spite of these threats.”
The letter went on: “We will feel compelled to withdraw them if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day -- to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.”
The letter acknowledges that reinstating the panels will require putting additional security measures in place, but points out that SXSW has five months to make these arrangements.
Previously, in August, a conference about GamerGate organized by the Society of Professional Journalists was forced to close down after receiving bomb threats.